Dumb and dumber

There’s a video clip that has made its way on to Facebook showing two workers on a building site shoveling sand into a wheelbarrow. When the barrow is full one of the workers picks up the handles, moves the barrow, literally, 30cm forward, and empties it out. Then he pulls the barrow back to its original position and the two start filling it anew.
Needless to say, this seemingly stupid act caused great mirth among the commentariat, and the two workers being men of colour, it brought on a rash of racist comments and insults.
Which was unfair, and showed no more than the ignorance of the commentators. For, if you have ever mixed cement mortar, or concrete, by hand, you will know that it is important to be pretty exact as to the proportions of the various ingredients. Too much sand and the mortar is weak, too much stone and the concrete is difficult to work and lay, too much water and the mixture will crack etc. (And, as one inevitably learns to one’s cost, one wheelbarrow equates to two 50kg pockets of cement, not one ~ that piece of knowledge I give you for free…)
So, assuming the two workers were about to mix mortar (the video was shot on a building site, after all) they were merely being careful to ensure the right proportions in their mix. Not so stupid after all, hey?
Which is not to say that all workers are geniuses. Or, indeed, that today’s workers are any dumber than those who have gone before.
My late mother-in-law, who was able to add up columns of numbers in the old sterling currency days (pounds, shillings and pence) just by running her eye down the page, once asked a Post Office counterhand for ten 10c stamps. This resulted in a laborious sum involving paper, a pencil and multiplication.
I always thought ma-in-law was taking the Mickey, she herself having started her working career before World War 2 in the Post Office, until the other day the counterhand at my local Post Office had to whip out her calculator to work out how much 100 stamps of R11-10 would cost.
The more things change, the more they stay the same (although the intervening years between my mother-in-law’s incident and mine does quite starkly illustrate the effects of inflation, not to mention the benefits of modern electronic technology).
But sometimes it’s not the advanced mathematics, nor some arcane knowledge of the properties of materials, that is at issue. Sometimes it is, indeed, rank stupidity.
Not long ago a relative needed some additional crockery for a large function. The plates were thus hired from a local hiring company, on a collect and return basis.
In such a case the deal is that the hirer is responsible for washing and drying the items, packing them into their containers and returning them. The hirer then receives the deposit paid on collection, less the cost of any breakages or losses.
To calculate how much deposit to pay back, therefore, the hiring company needs to count the crockery, piece by piece, on its return.
So after the function the relative returned to the hiring shop and unloaded the boxes from her car.
An important looking gent in a khaki dust coat then took up a seat on a high stool at an impressive counter while another worker opened the first box, lifted out a stack of plates and placed them in front of the more senior man.
Starting from the bottom of the pile Mr Dustcoat began counting off the plates, using his fingers, spider like, to climb up the stack, plate by plate. “One, two, three, four…”.
Before he’d finished the first stack, however, the second worker had retrieved another stack of plates from the box, which he placed on top of the first stack, in the process of being counted.
This caused a halt to the counting process and Mr Dustcoat’s spider-like fingers descended to the bottom of the pile. And started counting once again. “…one, two, three, four…”
A third pile was added to the stack, which resulted in yet another descent of the fingers and a full recount. “…one, two, three, four…”
The concentration with which Mr Dustcoat went about his task meant that my relative was reluctant to break his train of thought with the obvious suggestion the Mr Box-Emptier rather place the plates in different, smaller stacks on the counter, on which there was plenty of space.
Besides, watching this spectacle, as it unfolded for the fourth time, on a now precariously high stack of plates, was likely to result in her being able to tell a mirthfully tall tale.